'It’s a must’: 98 per cent of AFL fans want to keep sport on free to air TV

Georgina Noack
The Nightly
AFL fans have promised there will be “uproar” if the Federal Government does not change its anti-siphoning laws to allow them to watch their teams on free-to-air TV.
AFL fans have promised there will be “uproar” if the Federal Government does not change its anti-siphoning laws to allow them to watch their teams on free-to-air TV. Credit: Stefan Gosatti/AFL Photos

An overwhelming majority of AFL fans believe they should continue to be able to watch the sport for free with some promising there will be “uproar” if the Federal Government does not change its anti-siphoning laws to retain access to games on free-to-air channels.

An overwhelming 98 per cent of AFL fans agreed that Australians should be allowed to watch major sporting events on television for free, according to a poll by the AFL Fans Association (AFLFA).

AFLFA President Ron Issko said the results, although “not surprising”, were better than he expected, and would likely be replicable across other codes’ fanbases.

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“This just reinforces the fact that it is our right to watch our national sporting codes for free on television,” Mr Issko said.

“When you get this many saying the same thing, that’s massive, because fans don’t agree on anything. But when they do — and here it’s about seeing national teams on free-to-air TV — that’s non-negotiable.”

Poll respondents echoed Mr Issko’s concerns, saying all sports should be free. Some declared it was “a matter of national importance”.

One Carlton fan said the fact the question had to be asked was “appalling” and revealed how “out of touch” the Government was.

The Federal Government is considering changes to anti-siphoning legislation that guarantees free-to-air broadcasters the first option to bid for the rights to major sporting and cultural events ahead of pay-per-view and streaming services.

But the laws have not kept up with new technology or Australians’ evolving TV viewing habits, because the only rights available to free-to-air providers are for broadcast on linear TV, or to homes with antennas.

It means that if the laws are not updated, an increasing number of Australians — up to half of the population, at the latest poll commissioned by Free TV — who watch sports online either via smart TVs or mobile apps will be robbed of viewing these events.

Mr Issko, a card-carrying Richmond Tigers fan for about 45 years, said it was “wrong” for the “essence of the laws” to change and that the Government was hesitant to protect viewers’ interests.

“It is un-Australian,” he said. “As Aussies, we love our sport and when the rule is ‘you can watch our sports for free’, that’s the rule. Don’t come at me with technicalities, whether it’s aerial or digital. That’s not what we understand it to be.”

To think that laws are made and something like technology changes the essence of the laws. It feels wrong.

Ron Issko, AFL Fan Association President

He believes that to lose free-to-air sports would be akin to losing part of our national identity, and a “massive black mark against the powers that be”.

“If we lost viewing sports, we would lose part of our identity. We are a sports-loving nation, It would just be something that I don’t think Australia could even imagine,” Mr Issko said.

A coalition of free-to-air broadcasters including the Seven Network, which publishes The Nightly, argued the legislation needed to be changed to bundle free broadcast and digital rights, to allow them to continue streaming free sporting and cultural events rather than forcing Australians to pay streaming giants such as Amazon.

Mr Issko’s warning to the Government is simple: “Your priority is ‘must be’. Not ‘should be’, not ‘we hope’. It must be that free-to-air TV is here to stay and covers major sporting events. It’s not a preference. It’s a must.”

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